Jump to content

Ride the Tail of the Dragon on the '20 Tracer 900 GT or go smaller?


Recommended Posts

Going to try the Tail of the Dragon this summer for the first time.  Was thinking about riding the whole way and taking the Tracer, but was considering buying a smaller bike like a used Yamaha R3 and trailering it.  Just thinking about all of the curves and wondering if going smaller might be a little more fun than always worrying about keeping the throttle at bay.  Lower seat height and less suspension travel (and stiffer springs?) might make the ride more sporty.  
Of course, there's the other roads to consider in the area and thinking that an R3 might also be enjoyable from a sport riding perspective.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have been riding the area since 2004.  Definitely take the Tracer.  It will be plenty agile on the Dragon.  Have ridden mine there each year since I bought it and never once wished I had something smaller.  Unless you just want to go full attack mode, which means taking big risks, the Tracer will do all you need on the Dragon.  Take your time the first time through, it is VERY tight and twisty with elevation changes.  Try to ride it in the morning mid week as that is when it is the least busy.  Weekends can be crazy on that road.

Another consideration is the fact that there are literally hundreds of miles of fantastic roads in the area where NC, TN and GA share borders and if you have time you should explore as many as possible.  The Tracer will let you do so in comfort.  Close by are the Foothills Parkway, Route 28 and the Cherohala Skyway.  The Cherohala is considered by many to be the best road, and is one you should make a point of riding while in the area.  

  • Thumbsup 2

There is nothing like spending a day riding with friends in the grip of a shared obsession.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

55 minutes ago, johnmark101 said:

Have been riding the area since 2004.  Definitely take the Tracer.  It will be plenty agile on the Dragon.  Have ridden mine there each year since I bought it and never once wished I had something smaller.  Unless you just want to go full attack mode, which means taking big risks, the Tracer will do all you need on the Dragon.  Take your time the first time through, it is VERY tight and twisty with elevation changes.  Try to ride it in the morning mid week as that is when it is the least busy.  Weekends can be crazy on that road.

Another consideration is the fact that there are literally hundreds of miles of fantastic roads in the area where NC, TN and GA share borders and if you have time you should explore as many as possible.  The Tracer will let you do so in comfort.  Close by are the Foothills Parkway, Route 28 and the Cherohala Skyway.  The Cherohala is considered by many to be the best road, and is one you should make a point of riding while in the area.  

I agree^

The speed limit there is between 25 and 50 kmh (15 to 30mph) and the roads are frequently patrolled.  I usually stayed in first or second gear on my FZ-01 (a 1L bike).  Also you have the back of the Dragon and the Devil Triangle and if you go east toward Ashville you can go north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Keep in mind that the Dragon often has LEOs running radar to control the madness, especially on weekends.  Big fines result from being well over the (sensible) 20-25 mph speed limit.

On my first few passes I got “corner fatigue” from the constant and unrelenting need to set up cornering entry and exit points.  After a few miles it was quite difficult for me to maintain the concentration required to go fast and stay in my lane.  I was on my St 1300.

We stayed in the “Resort” at the east end of the Dragon and that was a fun scene with inexpensive accommodations and a bike wash.

Another really nice place close by is Fontana Lodge where you are eligible for the “Dragon Slayer” discount! :)

  • Thumbsup 2
1968 Triumph Bonneville 650
1971 Norton Commando Roadster
2002 Harley 1200 Sportster
2003 Honda ST 1300
2016 FJ 09
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, that's interesting.  I've often wondered about some dizziness when going from one corner to the other, which could lead to some freezing of the eyes/head instead of looking where the bike is supposed to be going.  Are there lots of spots on the tail to stop and rest?  That's probably how I'd approach it - do a section, stop, think through it, then restart.  

But you're right...the whole physical fatigue or brain fatigue would happen regardless of the bike you are on.  With some bikes being easier to turn into a corner, perhaps a lighter, smaller bike is an advantage.  That being said, you'd want to make sure it had a good ABS setup and that you were familiar with the way it worked, braking limits, etc.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member
3 hours ago, johnmark101 said:

 Try to ride it in the morning mid week as that is when it is the least busy.  Weekends can be crazy on that road.

Another consideration is the fact that there are literally hundreds of miles of fantastic roads in the area where NC, TN and GA share borders and if you have time you should explore as many as possible.  The Tracer will let you do so in comfort.  Close by are the Foothills Parkway, Route 28 and the Cherohala Skyway.  The Cherohala is considered by many to be the best road, and is one you should make a point of riding while in the area.  

👆 THIS

I've been riding to the NC - North GA area a couple times a year since 2011. The Dragon is cool and all. But, it can be a madhouse/shitshow on a nice weekend. 

There are miles and miles of great roads in every direction. A good resource for roads to ride is 

America Rides Maps

  • Thumbsup 4

"It doesn't matter who walks in, you know the joke is still the same"  Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. USA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks.  

I thought about taking a used MT-09 or SP on the trip instead, thinking that the lower seat height and sportier suspension might make things more interesting on the roads there.  All in all, though, I suspect that the engine in mine (the 849cc) is so similar to the new engine (890cc) that the riding experience would be pretty much the same.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 hours ago, Jayzonk said:

Going to try the Tail of the Dragon this summer for the first time.  Was thinking about riding the whole way and taking the Tracer, but was considering buying a smaller bike like a used Yamaha R3 and trailering it.  Just thinking about all of the curves and wondering if going smaller might be a little more fun than always worrying about keeping the throttle at bay.  Lower seat height and less suspension travel (and stiffer springs?) might make the ride more sporty.  
Of course, there's the other roads to consider in the area and thinking that an R3 might also be enjoyable from a sport riding perspective.  

Ride the Tracer and, maybe, don't even bother with The Dragon.  There are soooo many other roads that are twisty and fun and not nearly as busy (or with as many idiots) as the Dragon.  I rode down a few years ago, with some friends.  The trip to the Dragon was far better than the actual thing.  Cross the border in Buffalo and you have tons and tons of options for a great route south.

https://goo.gl/maps/L6VpAK1D31wDwru47

Zoom in on the map around southern West Virginia, Virginia or northern North Carolina.   it's absolutely covered in twisty, squiggly roads to pick from.  You never know what you'll find.

Personally, I think the Dragon is overhyped. 

You never know what you'll find along the way.

jjchonga_V-Strom_surf1.jpg

Edited by Heavy
  • Thumbsup 3

There is never enough time or money to do it right the first time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You have gotten some great advice so far and I really agree with all of it for the most part, I will differ on a few minor things.

I've been going down there at least once a year since 2001 or 2002 when we discovered my good friends in-laws lived right off of 129 in Maryville. My friend and I trailered bikes down there to go riding the next trip after him helping them initially move, I had read about the Dragon in a magazine and said we should go down to try it and the rest is history. I could write a book on the fun we've had, but I will try to keep this shorter than that, lol!!! Try to :)

I personally feel the "perfect" bike for the area would be a lightweight to middleweight 4cyl or a twin since the roads are tight and twisty with turns coming fast and furious so light weight and instant throttle are key to going at a quick pace. Having said that, ANY bike works great, and the Yamaha triple shines down there. But in my rides over the years we've had everything from an FZR400, to an ST1300, to an FZ1, a Ducati 996, Superhawk, GSXR750, pretty much every generation and model of CBR from 600s to 929 to 954 to 1000RR, my Ducati Supersport and last years group was my Tracer GT, my dad's XSR900, a CBR600RR and a first timer on an older Triumph Sprint ST. There are far more I didn't list, a couple years ago was 600RR, ST1300, 600F4i, Supersport S and a WR250R.....just saying anything works :)

The locals will generally ride supermotos, 600's or dual sports from my experience if that means anything. 

Unless you've ridden a racetrack, in the mountains or in the canyons on the west coast nothing will prepare you for the roads down there: smooth, twisty, tight, lots of bikes going all sorts of speeds. Locals are flying faster than you think is possible because you once considered yourself a good rider until you see them go so effortlessly, slow Harley groups taking up entire lanes with their weaving and inability to corner, adventure riders, supermotos, etc. Just keep your head on your own ride and don't let others affect you. I am not kidding about the roads, you cannot fathom how good they are all over the place but YOU need to ride YOUR own ride. It's very easy to get caught up in following someone and get way above your head fast.

Anyway, here is what we did last year since the "new guy" had never been there before: first day was taking him on some area roads, we did 28 South going from where we stayed in Bryson City to Highlands. We then cut back north and meandered around a bit to get him used to the way thing can go and called it a day after several hours of riding the curves. He said when we did the Dragon, Cherohala Skyway and the Foothills Parkway the next day he was VERY happy we did it that way, it got him used to what was to come.

The Dragon is another thing all together. Its VERY tight, technical and the curves never end. You don't realize how long 11 miles and 318 curves can be until you ride it and there are very few stretches to get a "release" of the curves. It is mentally and physically challenging so just take it at a safe pace, don't let it sneakily get you because it can and will so use the multiple pull off's to rest and let other riders go around you. Once you get through it a few times, then look to increase the pace a bit. If you get tired, stop and rest, that is the #1 cause of wrecks on the Dragon and in the mountains. Over the years and many trips there have been a few wrecks, ALL were riding over their comfort, or fatigue related (lets make 1 more run and be done kinda thing). 

The Tracer will be a blast, I run it in second gear the entire Dragon and let the engine do the speed regulation; I do the same thing on my Ducati, the sportbikes over the years and really anything but a small cc bike will be fine in the one gear. Traffic reports are a bit overblown unless you are trying to make speed, but early morning and evenings are the best times as are weekdays. As far as LEOs, well, we've never had an issue on the Gap (there was a run-in years ago in a town outside of it but that's a story for another day) as long as we were reasonable. A few years back we were chatting with the motor officers up there and they said flat out if you are riding controlled and not ridiculous they will let you be; they have bigger fish to fry with the boy racers, toy cars, and the cruisers scraping all over and drinking while riding.

The speed limit I think is down to 25 now (it was 55 or 45 when I started going way back when) and as long as you are reasonable and controlled you'll be fine. The first few times you will honestly find 30mph somewhat difficult to maintain. STAY IN YOUR LANE!!!

Other mentioned it and I agree, the other roads around the area are just as good, if not better, there is more to see and while challenging they are not as outright fatiguing as the Gap but you should ride it at least once to experience something like no other. Someone earlier linked the America Rides Maps: They. Are. The. Best. Thing. out there for getting to know the area and the roads. You can easily get lost and end up in places that the GPS tells you are a road but trust me, they aren't. That's where the maps shine.

Last advice: Remember, especially if you ride down to get there, you need to be able to ride your bike or be able to drive back. My dad was being dumb in 2016 and totaled his '06 FZ1 on a corner at the end of day 1 on a 4 day trip we were doing down there. He was airlifted from where he wrecked just outside of Highlands, NC to Greenville, SC with a few broken ribs, a broken wrist and major internal bruising. So instead of a fun trip, my friend and I had to ride 2 hours to meet him at the hospital, spend the night there, ride 5 hours BACK to Maryville to pick up the trailer, load up drive that rig 5 hours to Highlands to get his wrecked bike, then drive the 2 hours to Greenville to pick him up. All because he was being a smartass at 68 years old and thought he'd pass us going into a tight corner and overshot it. There are no shortcuts to get to these big cities, the interstates are almost as curvy as the backroads.

Hope this helps!!!

Edited by miweber929
Spelling and clarity
  • Thumbsup 2
  • Thanks 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the write-up.  Actually, I have taken a YCRS course on a racetrack, but I am by no means a racer or even close.  I took the course for the sake of learning how to corner using trail braking, how to body position for curves, and generally how to ride briskly but safe.  

Haven't been on a track since that time (2020 I think), so that's why I was considering an R3 as more ideal.  They have them at the YCRS track, and they are such a nice, compact, package that my first thought was that it might make for a less stressful trip through the Gap (and other roads) as long as I get some practice for a few months at home first.  

That being said, I'm pretty confident on my Tracer, and I am used to how it respond from my feedback, which might make for the safest experience.  

  • Thumbsup 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Jayzonk said:

Perhaps a KLX300 supermoto would be just as good...agile, slower, and still upright!  The locals must have a level of familiarity with riding it that exceeds everyone else....there's a reason they ride supermotos there.  

YCRS is awesome, one day I will do it. A member of my Ducati page is a teacher there. I've done numerous track days, but this is just a different place altogether.

I would ride it first before buying a bike specially for there. Your Tracer will work great, and you'll have a blast on it, just see what you feel after a trip. My guess is once you go you'll want to go back; the guy who went on the trip last fall with the Sprint bought it for there and now wants a Daytona 675 instead. He's hooked, lol!!! I go at least twice a year now. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just now, Jayzonk said:

Great.  Do you ride all the way from Minnesota?  I'm in SW Ontario and I've covered part of the ground getting there, but I think most of it is pretty good, esp if you head east then south through PA and West Virginia.  

No and here's why:

Way back when tires that were sticky were only good for 2,500 miles and riding 2 days on a CBR600RR and a CBR929RR would make riding the last thing you want to do after slabbing it for 2 days. We'd have to change tires before and after the trip. What we did as stupid 20 somethings was work until Friday at 5 PM, jump in the car pulling the bikes on the trailer, drive all night to get there, switching back and forth driving every few hours, get there at 5 AM (we lived in Wisconsin at the time so it was almost exactly 12 hours between Milwaukee and Maryville), ride all day Saturday and Sunday, do the same thing getting back and go back to work Monday morning. We were dumb. It's also freaking flat until almost Tennessee so 10 out of 12 hours is boring.

Nowadays is different, but the sentiment is still the same: I'd rather relax and enjoy the drive and be ready to go when getting there. Also, if you do have a mechanical, flat tire, small get off, whatever, you can just drive home. When I go with my wife we take 3 days to get to the house we rent, play around for 10 days and take 2 to get home, and pull my Kenden behind my Jeep. When I go with the guys I have a 6x14 enclosed trailer I can haul 4 sportbikes and all the gear in behind the truck.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share


×